What an incredible journey! These past few months have been an immense process of self-study and self-discovery. With each new yama I wonder which unseen or long forgotten part of myself I will encounter next.
A Kind Journey
First, we began with ahimsa in the month of June. Do no harm in thought, word or deed. Ahimsa invites me to ask, may my thoughts, words and deeds be kind to others and most importantly to myself. May this study of the yamas and niyamas be a kind journey, shining the light of awareness as guided by this ancient text, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. We have been taking these steps with compassionate self-observation as Swami Kripalu has suggested as best we can.
Second, satya, truthfulness for the month of July. May I be honest with others and myself. May my self-assessment be honest and yet extended with the kindness of ahimsa, do no harm.
Third, asteya, non-stealing was our focus for August. May I notice if I ever take without asking for something that has not been freely offered to me. May I have the courage and integrity to make requests, honestly and kindly, for that which I want. And may my requests be made with an open heart and an open hand, rather than a veiled demand cloaking animosity or resentment or an unstated obligation.
Fourth, in September we considered “when is enough, enough?” Brahmacharya shines the light of awareness on how I expend energy and how I consume. May I embrace the intention of conserving my energy for the highest good, especially for my vitality and well-being. May I bring my whole self to live the life I was meant to live. Here’s where we began to anticipate aparigraha, the fifth yama, the fifth restraint.
As we opened awareness to where we may not have been moderate, we considered the things that we own, all that we have consumed that now fills our drawers, shelves, closets, basements, attics, garages and in some cases storage units. We saw many ways in which we had overdone, bought on sale, inherited. Some of us discovered that we have been suffering from a sort of indigestion of “stuff.” Several of us felt emboldened to begin to weed out and pass along. This continued as we officially began the study of the yama for October.
Am I Gripping?
According to yogapedia dot com. The word aparigraha is made of parts as follows: ‘graha’ means to take, to seize, or to grab, ‘pari’ means ‘on all sides’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself – basically, the “a” means ‘non’. Most frequently referred to as non-possessiveness, this yama encourages us to notice what we have seized. Questions we can ask ourselves include: Can I loosen my grip? Can I let things be? Can I let things be as they are and let them pass when their time comes to move on? Or is my gripping non-negotiable? Has what I’ve seized become attached to my being to a degree that I fear letting go, that I will lose a part of myself if I let go? Am I attached to it and it attached to me, like a barnacle, an extra appendage?
So we begin as we have done with each yama, simply noticing… in this case, noticing what we’ve become attached to. These yamas seem to have many levels of inquiry. My relationship with things, people, thoughts/beliefs, actions and spirit. And boy, did we notice a lot of things we had become attached to.
Bins of family photographs.
A basement full of all sorts of whatever.
Collections of supplies for craft projects.
A beloved tree in the backyard who’s time may have come.
We talked about gardening, letting go of expectations about how things will grow, how they’ll look, how long they’ll blossom, when they will begin to wilt and die, what bugs or varmints will attack them. Will they go dormant and regenerate next spring or do they need to be re-seeded? Some of us decided to take the perspective that there are no failed plants, there’s just compost or deer food. Gardens help us be with the cycle of life, not taking credit for successes nor responsibility for failures.
Letting go of thinking and coming back into the present
Letting go of making comments
Letting go of judgements
Letting go of assuming that others are having the same experience as I am
Letting go of dreading things, like appointments, doctors, tests
Letting go of suffering that has become so familiar that I’m afraid to move on
A Litmus Test
Are there criteria that can help me discern what I need to let go of?
Can the yamas and niyamas shine a light on what serves me and what doesn’t?
Honoring the wisdom of each of the yamas, we can ask ourselves: Is it kind? Is it honest? Is it available? Is it moderate? Do I need it?
What we seem to have unearthed is that the subtlety of this inquiry into possessiveness includes a vigorous self-assessment of what serves my energy and what depletes my energy.This requires more subtle discernement. I need to evaluate and be honest with myself about what uplifts me and what pulls me down.
Can I evaluate my choices by that criteria?
Can I be honest about the tough ones?
How do I keep the process from getting discouraging?
Can I make this a practice of awareness, first?
Tools for the Practice of Aparigraha – Letting Go
Perhaps we begin with letting go of the easy things first. This helps me avoid the overwhelm that will arise if I think that everything has to go right away. (Thank you to our community member, Barbara Siems, for this and many other tips she shared in a free workshop on decluttering.)
Clear one item at a time. Maybe one drawer at a time. One closet at a time. One box at a time. Consider options. Some things can be recycled, some donated, some need to go into the trash.You can take photos of some items.Consolidate. You can digitize photos or slides. Some items can even be donated to historical societies.
Take time to be with the item and simply feel what it means inside of you. Breathe, relax, feel, watch, allow and shift out of thinking about it. Be with it. Feel the part of you that resonates with it. Does the process help me connect to what’s meaningful inside of me? Is the object more about connection than it is about the object? Do I need the external object? Does the object “speak” to me and is this a message that I want in my environment? Perhaps so. Maybe I just need to be with the emotions that are stirred within me as I connect to the symbolism of the object. Michael Singer, in The Untethered Soul suggests, “Stay open. Let it flow. Then, let go.” Bearing in mind ahimsa, being kind to myself, it’s also okay if it’s not time for me to let go. Maybe I need more support to do so?
If I feel the urge to say something, am I willing to consider my attachment to communicating? I could ask myself a few questions before I speak:
Is this something that needs to be said?
Is this the time it needs to be said?
Am I the one to say it?
Turn, Turn, Turn
Like Pete Seeger’s song,
To everything, there is a season
And a time to every purpose
Live Life Fully
Debra Adele writes in her book, The Yamas and Niyamas, “The jewel of aparigraha invites us to enjoy life to its fullest, yet always be able to drop everything and run into the arms of the great mystery of what life brings next. It is the nature of things to change and by failing to let them change or move on, they begin to disappoint us and our attempts to hold on begin to make us stale and discontent. What we try to possess, possesses us.
The guideline of Aparigraha invites us to let go and pack lightly for our journey through life, all the while caring deeply and enjoying fully.”
Community Sharing of the Practice of Aparigraha – Letting Go
“Coming to practice this morning I can let go of yesterday. I can let go of last night. I can simply let go. I can open myself to newness. Even though it’s the same, it’s new every day. New possibilities. I’ve had to practice the art of letting go. Sometimes it’s a life, maybe just someone I knew, or it could be a friendship. Sometimes it’s flowers and plants that I’m letting go of. We’re just visitors. We get joy. We get grief. It’s what is. If I’m hanging on so tight it’s hard to reach out and accept something new. It’s a dance. Every day. Just like the breath.”Jeanette Peterson, NY
“For me, I am letting go of what I thought life was going to be.I set up expectations. I see myself and my life going along and along and along. And things happen, the loss of a loved one, family members who didn’t turn out the way I expected they would.Then how do I learn to live with that and balance my energy? During Covid I’ve had to let go of a lot of things. And what it did was free up time to do other things and explore things that I didn’t have time for, like this practice. Sometimes when you have a loss in your life it makes room for something else.”Yvonne Stauffer, PA
“What I have – and what has me – aparigraha, help me see.”Emily Eisen, NY
When I let go it creates space. How do I feel about open space? Can I stay connected to what’s meaningful to me while being in the space of possibility, between what was and what will be? What do I need to be connected to externally? What do I need to be connected to internally?
Am I willing to allow this life to be an unfolding mystery?
The yamas continue to encourage me to ask a lot of difficult questions. Honoring a commitment to be gentle with myself, I choose to abide in the space of the questions, not forcing any sense of knowing, just being. Here I am.
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